Despite severe restrictions on the functioning of personnel in the military due to COVID-19, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is working on clearing several passes in the Northern and North Eastern parts of the country and aim to throw open the key Rohtang Pass by April 7.
A senior BRO official told The Indian Express that the reduced levels of functioning due to precautions being taken to protect its personnel from getting exposed to Coronavirus, the snow clearance teams of BRO were working to ensure that important lines of communication are kept open.
“We have targetted to open Rohtang Pass by April 7 and the entire Manali-Leh Axis by May 1, almost one and a half month before 2019 opening. BRO opened Zojila Pass on Mar 15 this year, almost one and half month before normal time, which is a record in itself,” he said.
BRO officials say that its personnel are taking all precautions which have been mandated by the Government of India as well as the Ministry of Defence for protection from COVID-19. However, certain tasks like keeping lines of communication open cannot be put off indefinitely as defence and civilian personnel in far flung areas need to be connected to the rest of the country during the period of the pandemic for essential supplies to reach, senior officials say
“Western Disturbances have added to the woes of BRO with high number of snow slide clearances in J&K, Uttarakhand, HP and Arunachal Pradesh being done to keep the lines of communication open in wake of government assistance to far flung villages for COVID-19,” a senior officer in BRO HQs said.
However, the BRO work on the strategically important Rohtang Tunnel has grind to a halt due to the restrictions in place for COVID-19. A BRO official associated with the project said that the work on the tunnel had been affected and has come to a stop.
“Manpower for the work is not available in sufficient numbers as villages from where these were drawn are under lockdown. Also, there is a complete shutdown of services so fuel and other supplies are also not reaching in time,” the official said.
The project, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was scheduled to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2020. When asked if the deadline would still be met, a senior BRO official said that it would be completed as per schedule.
The road surfacing work in the tunnel was in progress when the work came to a halt. The tunnel is connected to the Lahaul-Spiti valley since last year and the first civilian traffic has already passed through it before the road surfacing work commenced in late 2019.
Meanwhile, sources in the Ministry of Defence say that the focus in the Army, Navy and Air Force at present is on “force preservation”. Which means that the service personnel must themselves remain healthy in order to ensure appropriate availability in case they are called to assist the civil administration in the fight against COVID-19.
“We are creating quarantine facilities, both for the civilians and service personnel, and are also creating adequate reserve of face masks and associated protective equipment,” a senior Army officer in Western Command said.
The Army is also creating infrastructure for COVID-19 testing. “The Command Hospitals, Military Hospitals, Base Hospitals and General Hospitals as well as field ambulance units of the field formations Pan India have become the COVID-19 nodes,” the officers said.
It is also learnt that a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for assistance to civil administration, both, for law and order and medical assistance, is also available at all military stations.
“While adequate care is being to maintain social distance and isolation of personnel at all unit levels but there is no let up in holding physical training (PT) sessions so that the troops are kept fit. Special instructions for this have been disseminated,” a Western Command officer said.
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